It’s a weekday evening and Sean Gorman is in the garage-turned-workshop of his St. John’s home, door open, truck parked in the driveway, a newly completed piece of furniture on a workbench. The shop is well laid out and cozy, built for the needs of a single craftsman plying his trade. And this is his trade. Sort of.
Sean spends his days working as a journeyman carpenter in the construction industry – house framing, concrete formwork, and whatnot. Building furniture isn’t really anything like that he says. Aside from some common base skills and woodworking knowledge, the things he makes in his workshop don’t really have anything to do with his day job.
Ask him, and he’ll tell you he isn’t a furniture maker – he just likes making stuff. Like, say halfpipes and ramps for fingerboards, and hopefully one day a full-size skateboard halfpipe, if somebody asks him to do it. He’s a maker – of halfpipes, furniture and at least one plywood longboard. It’s all on his Instagram account, @seangormanbuilds. That piece on the workbench, a low, mid-century modern inspired TV stand, is also made of plywood. Let’s talk about it.
It’s his second go at making it, having originally built one for himself using oak plywood salvaged from a shipping crate on a jobsite. That first TV stand sits in his living room. This one, for a person connected through a mutual friend, is made of oak plywood too, from a sheet bought for the project, not salvaged. The legs, bought at a home centre, have the look and rake of a vintage mid-century modern furniture piece. The person who will call it her own had a budget to work with, and Sean made considerations accordingly to match that budget – for instance the choice of plywood instead of solid wood, and a decision to use doweled screw and glue joinery instead of more labour intensive mortise and tenon or dovetail joinery.
It’s all about making things at accessible prices, partly to help people get the piece of furniture they’re looking for, and partly as a way to get more of his work out into the world.
“If I made this out of solid oak, material alone would cost what I’m charging for the whole thing, including labour,” he says. “I’m just trying to make it so that everyone can afford it.”
There’s a long lineage of plywood being used in quality furniture making, from the mid-century modern work of Charles and Ray Eames to current pieces from companies like Gus* Modern. It’s a good material to work with and can look great in the hands of an accomplished maker.
Being a fan of plywood, Sean likes the look of an exposed plywood edge and has made several pieces – like a plywood and copper pipe coffee table – that incorporate plywood as a feature of the piece, rather than something to be covered up or hidden.
“I like the idea of taking something cheap and turning it into something nice, without having to spend a fortune on it,” he says.
When making things for himself, his build process is somewhat fluid and improvisational, working until what he envisioned in his head matches what he sees on the workbench. From that image in his head, he creates a rough sketch that works as a general outline for the project, using the sketch to map out critical dimensions. From there, he works toward creating the envisioned piece, making adjustments and building on the fly.
“I have an idea of how I want it to look, then I just start building,” he says. It’s an approach that works, in part, because of the experience he brings to the shop as a journeyman carpenter.
Sean builds because he likes making things and the process of making, including the problem-solving. There are days, he says, when a project has him stumped, and he’ll figure out a solution while working his construction gig. It’s those days, he says, when he can’t wait to get back to the workshop.
He’s been getting plenty of workshop time lately, too, with a series of projects for the new Chinched Bistro location. He had come to know the owners of Chinched, Shawn and Michelle, and they asked if he’d be willing to make some tabletops for the new location. They already had the metal restaurant table bases, they just needed the tops.
Working with Chinched and Sam Follett of Plank Design, the project grew to include a host stand, countertops, rebuilding a built-in bench seat, and building a floating shelving unit, as well as some other projects.
Working a side gig can make for long days – sometimes Sean is in the workshop from when he gets home at around 5 until 11 or 12 at night. But he likes it that way.
“I just like to make stuff for people,” he says. “It’s rewarding.”
See more of Sean’s work on his Instagram account, @seangormanbuilds, or email him at email@example.com.